What Would Machiavelli Do? - NEW COURSE

Martin Eisner
LS 770-83
Summer 2019
Wednesdays, 6:00-9:00 pm - Begins May 29-Ends July 31
Location TBA

If “fame is a form, perhaps the worst form, of incomprehension” (Borges), there may be no more famous author than Machiavelli. His name continues to be invoked for both praise and blame by a diverse public that includes management consultants, relationship experts, psychologists, and Alexander Hamilton biographers. Investigating the development of Machiavelli’s thought as it emerges in conversation with contemporary and classical texts, this course addresses questions that have lasted for over 500 years: is he a republican or an apologist for tyrants, a realist or an idealist, Renaissance humanist or modern theorist? We will pay particular attention to how his reading of literary works, such as Ovid, Dante, and Boccaccio, shaped his political thinking in The Prince, Discourses on Livy, and The Art of War. We will also explore his remarkable dramatic and literary works, such as the Mandragola and Golden Ass, for what they reveal about Machiavelli’s distinctive ideas about power, deception, language, and representation. A major concern throughout will be the fame of Machiavelli’s ideas in later thinkers such as the American Federalists, Nietzsche, Gramsci, and Arendt, and the misunderstanding of his thought in fascism and modern conspiracy theories. Just as Machiavelli searched history for answers to his own political situation, our guiding question cannot help but be “What would Machiavelli do?” 

About Martin Eisner
Romance Studies

Martin Eisner is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at Duke University and Director of Graduate Studies for both the Department of Romance Studies and the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. He specializes in medieval Italian literature, particularly the works of Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, as well as the history of the book and media.